Pepper Market at Coronado Springs Resort is a low-key casual eatery despite the vibrant splashes of color and the towering, whimsical characters adorning the open area designed to be reminiscent of a lively Mexican marketplace. The room is bright and fanciful enough to attract the attention of younger children as it looks somewhat like a play area from first glance due to its sheer iridescence. Although there is a host and wait staff, the restaurant is partly self-service and partly buffet. While the server (in our case, the very bubbly Norie) will describe the ordering process, take beverage orders, provide your order card and clear plates away, the individual diner is responsible for ordering and almost keeping his/her tab, so to speak. There are several food stations, from pasta and pizza to Mexican specialties of the house to both hot and cold sandwiches, each with their fare being displayed on a chalkboard in front of the corresponding station. Each diner chooses the meal he desires and hands the order card to the chef (who stamps their choice on the card before handing it back) and begins preparing your order while you wait. It seems a little odd at first and maybe not as streamlined as it should be, but it works.
On a very quiet Saturday night (about 8pm and with perhaps four other occupied tables), we were able to get our food orders in quickly as none of the stations had lines Similarly, our meals were ready in record time, again due to the lack of guests that night. As the theme is Mexican, we sampled some of the corresponding meals: the beef burrito and the steak fajitas. The burrito was an enormous soft flour tortilla jam packed with ground beef and smothered beneath tons of shredded cheddar cheese and topped with a generous helping of a type of ranchero/salsa sauce. While the beef could have been seasoned a tad more, the sauce was the downfall of the meal. Completely bland and tasteless, its vivid color was sadly the only positive quality it possessed. There was actually no point in it being on the plate at all. It added absolutely nothing, instead detracting from the rest of the meal. We found ourselves trying to push the sauce off the burrito so we could enjoy the otherwise decent entree. On the other hand, the fajitas were actually quite surprising. Tender, delicately seasoned steak and perfectly grilled fresh vegetables made for a delicious stuffing for the three flour tortillas. Served with black beans and rice, the beans were slightly and welcomingly spicy while the rice was dry and overcooked. We contemplated staying for dessert as the one song on the restaurant’s playlist was being incessantly repeated over and over and was beginning to drive us mad. But the aroma of the freshly baked danish, muffins and pastry and the sight of the many tempting confections dulled our senses to the music and overrode our decision to leave. We chose to share the chocolate Oreo cake and the strawberry shortcake. The shortcake was light, spongy and moist with a fruity strawberry jam layer snuggled between the lovely vanilla cake. The Oreo cake was creamy and delicious, its frosting packed with chunks of Oreo cookie crumbles. A sweet ending to the meal. At the end of the meal (gratuity not included), one finds his/her way to the cashier at the exit who reviews what has been stamped on your order card and charges you accordingly. Again, there was only one cashier on duty but because the dining room was practically void of guests, we was not wait checking out. Pepper Market strives to have a unique concept but falls somewhat short of that goal. Its strong point is that unless you want to visit Cafe Rix (basically an over the counter, grab as you go spot) or the much fancier Maya Grill, there is nothing in between for resort guests. Pepper Market is a welcome spot for offering a wider array of meals than the typical hot dog/hamburger platter at affordable prices. Only dinner works in the way outlined above. Breakfast and lunch are all-you-can eat buffets and probably worth a closer look. FAST: FOOD: It seems to be a hit or miss. While the steak fajitas were excellent and probably just as good as those available at the Maya Grill, the burrito was sadly disappointing, mostly due to the completely bland sauce. The market does offer a breakfast buffet which seems to offer all the typical fare found at the other resort morning buffets. And they also offer a one-price all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. It seems that dinner is the only meal which works as described above. There is also a kids’ station at dinner offering mac and cheese, chicken nuggets and other children’s favorites. ATMOSPHERE: Vibrant, colorful yet quaint. The bright hues and whimsical animal characters will probably delight young children. They certainly could use a more varied soundtrack. SERVICE: Norie was friendly and upbeat but we didn’t see much of her as she usually was clearing away plates while we were visiting other stations. TIPS: Probably fine for guests of Coronado Springs although I wouldn’t go out of my way for a visit. Not bad at all but just not special enough to make it a “must go”.